Too “Twee”, or Not Too “Twee”? That Is Just One of Today’s Questions.

Aggggghhhhhh! I did not know that the re-design would kick in today! So bear with me while I clean up the usual minor glitches, including a very awkward Comment button (click onto the READ MORE box at the very end of this post) And now, back to our regularly scheduled chat:

Usually this space is reserved for garden-y painting time, like this:


But today I have two important non-garden-y questions on my mind. The first one is, in regards to the illustration below,

Too Twee?


Twee: excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental. And oh yeah, that (above) is twee, and I should know because I did it, by collage, by piecing together bits of a rose garden and bits of tea table for an illustration that, in the end, didn’t work because it was too damn twee. But I like the way I did the spoons. And the cranberry muffin isn’t half bad. But I digress.

Now here’s something that I think is

Not twee:


That (above) is my Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet (pictured with an actual Triscuit, the delicious whole wheat snack cracker from Nabisco which I mention because I call  my teeny tiny paintings Triscuits and I don’t want to be sued for trademark infringement so I give credit where credit is due).

Twee is bad for illustration because it’s lazy. Twee depends on cliche for its effect, and cliches (whether spoken, written, or painted) are way dull — cliches are the easy way out, something for the shallow or cynical-minded to fall back on when they don’t want to put in the hard work of having an original thought. Don’t be fooled by the prettiness: “pretty” (as we all know) can be dead boring. Which, now that I’ve explained it, I’m sure you can now clearly see the twee in this picture:


I had planned to use this illustration in my book Gardens of Awe and Folly, and I was going to drop text into the blank area in the left-center of the picture but, when I took a third look at it, I saw that it was way too cute and dopey and I in the end I saved all you Dear Readers from this eruption of sickly sweet and removed it from consideration. But hey, that’s life — sometime twee happens to the best of us.

My Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet is not guilty of twee because there’s no hot cross bun in the picture. In other words, I don’t exactly know why it isn’t twee, it just isn’t.

You might remember that one-quarter of this quartet began life as this:

P1070572 (1)

But those two cups were boring and ill-composed (even for a Triscuit) so I re-drew it:


And re-painted it to be less boring:


And now, because Dear Reader Nancy S. asked me to, I am giving you all the drawings that made my non- twee Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet possible:





And then we come to this baby:


I know you’ll want to put your own design here!

Side view: Lord lordy lordy, it is sooooo much easier to paint stuff if you don’t have to deal with perspective, which turns round things like tea cups and saucers into ovals which are very tricky.


And so, while you watch me paint a tea cup the painless way . . .


. . . I want to discuss the second question of the day, inspired by The New York Times’ Social Qs column.


Social Qs is a very popular feature in the NYT Sunday paper in which Philip Galanes gives “lighthearted advice about awkward social situations“.


Recently I read this question in Social Qs:

I am a woman in my 20s and work in a small, friendly office of 20 people. My given name is Andie. I have a male colleague, who goes by the nickname Andy. To cut down on confusion, my colleagues started calling me Andie Girl or Miss Andie, and him Andy Boy or Mr. Andy. I hate it! It’s infantilizing and condescending. But I didn’t nip it in the bud, and now everyone in the company uses these nicknames, including Human Resources and our C.E.O. Is there a way to address this that doesn’t seem as if I’m suddenly overreacting?


This query was signed, ANDIE, PORTLAND, ORE.


As I hope tens of thousands of you know, I will be in Portland, Ore. on May 5 and 7, and I would like to meet ANDIE, PORTLAND, ORE. to tell her that I think “Andie Girl” is an ADORABLE nick-name, but I won’t because I totally agree with Mr. Galanes’ answer which is (short version) (long version here), that heck yeah, Andie should go have a talk with HR about putting a stop to this “Andy Girl” business because:

We should all be called what we like.


I love this answer because I happened to have had a recent falling out with someone — a relative, in fact — over this exact same issue! In my case, it’s not about a nickname, it’s about the fact that I’m an identical twin.


I’ve been an identical twin all my life, so it’s no big deal to me. Being an identical twin — believe me — is about the least interesting thing about me, so I hardly ever mention it.

However, when I was growing up, being an identical twin was a huge pain in the ass. I’m talking from an 8-year old’s point of view when I say that I hated being a twin on my birthday and Christmas, when me and my sister were treated as one unit, meaning that we got one birthday gift to share, one birthday cake to share, one Xmas gift to share. . . you get the  picture. Now, as a grown up, I have a more mature understanding of the gift-giving situation and I understand that my relatives were simply being cheap bastards so, for the most part, I have disowned them.


But the one thing that still chaps my butt (as they say in Texas) is when me and my sister are still referred to as “the twins“. If I were a singleton, I’d always be called by my own name — a common courtesy that many of you non-twins take for granted, right? But because I’m a twin, I don’t get a name, I get a unit designation, a stupid catch-all, a de-humanizing label, etc etc etc. — I think you get my point, that for whatever reason,  I  hate it when me and my sister are called “the twins”.


So when a relative recently wrote an email in which me and my sister were referred to as “the twins”, I emailed back, and I said please, don’t call me “the twins”. Thank you.


In reply, not only did this relative answer “No”, she responded “Absolutely No” with a long, angry note about how it’s ridiculous of me to object to being called “the twins”, how it’s the truth that I’m a twin, that she likes it that I’m a twin, she can’t fathom why I don’t like being called a twin,  etc etc.


So I gave her the old FU and we are no longer on speaking terms.


The point is that I don’t have to justify it, I don’t have to explain it, I don’t have to come up with a good enough excuse to you; you don’t have to agree, you don’t even have to like it. All you have to know is that I don’t like I don’t like being called “the twins” and say, as any kind-hearted or civilized person would, Oh, I didn’t know that but now that I do, I will not call you “the twins” because

We should all be called what we like.


So the second question of the day is:



The thing I like about this tea cup is the way it sits on the paper, like it’s an ideal tea cup, or the idea of a tea cup, or a design for a tea cup, a pattern for a tea cup. I think this form would look nice in a trio (suitable for framing), like this:


Each tea cup would be painted with a different pattern, maybe even modified in homage to some memorable cups of tea you’ve had in your travels, like, say, that tea cup with the square handle in that Paris cafe near the Louvre:

Paris cafe, paris croissant

Or that delicious cup of Assam with the tea bag hanging out of it, at the boulangerie in the Opera metro station:


Or that nice hot cuppa with a sugar cube and spoon the cafe facing Sacre Coeur:


Paris cafe near Sacre Coeur

The possibilities are endless, and not at all twee.

Before I go, I must thank all you Amazon Commenters for your lovely 5-star reviews. No, wait — I can do better than “thanks”! Remember, I did this:



And this:


The Super Duper Triscuit Quartet Give Away is destined for one of you lucky Amazon reviewers to win (you don’t have to buy the book on Amazon, you just have to review it there, such is the reality of the modern day book biz).

But wait there’s more — WE HAVE A WINNER!


We have a winner of my Monet’s Boats Triscuit and that winner is the Commentor who goes by the name of:


Top Cat chose #72 as the wining number for this contest, and Snap had the guess that came closest to that number without going over it — and Happy Birthday too! Snap, please email me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com so I can send this miniature masterpiece your way.

Another big huge Thank You goes out to everyone who tuned in to GardenChat with Bren last Wednesday to watch me LIVE on internet TV  and joined me in my little fake talk-show set and saw how smoooooth I am in front of a camera:

Photo on 4-27-16 at 1.24 PM #3

One last thing: If you have a story about how you got rid of an odious nick name, or if  you’ve chosen to be known by a name other than the one you were given at birth, please please please let me know in a Comment below. To me, it’s a wonder that so many of us hang on to the randomly assigned name we were given by people [parents] who , let’s face it, have their own agendas when it comes to naming their offspring. Right?

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones.

See you in Seattle on May 3! And Portland (Oregon) on May 5! Check me out on the EVENTS page!

And next week, as I have promised Commentor Lynn from NOLA, we will do this:



28 Comments, RSS

  1. Casey

    Wow. It will take a little time to get used to the new “you”. I dislike change in general but, as you said in the GoAaF, it’s necessary to learn to accept it. I like that the pictures are bigger. I can admire even more the beauty of your painting skills. I think I might be able to do the three tea cup stack you put up here, so thank you for that.

    When my sister was 19 she told the family that she hated the nickname we’d been calling her all her life and told us to stop it. She was very angry, having stored up all that resentment for years before she got the nerve to put her foot down and tell us how she felt. My mother was the first to apologize and then she ordered all of us including my father and grandfathers (my grandmothers were dead) to never tease or “slip” or call her by that nickname again. I can’t even type that old nickname in here because I know it would agrieve my sister, but it was kind of cute and wasn’t derogatory, it was just a nickname that my sister had grown to loathe so because I love my sister I can’t even tell you what it was without getting her permission first.

  2. Katie

    My nickname is very boring – regular Katie from Catherine. But – it has been a pain all my life to have a formal name starting with a C and a similar and regularly used name starting with a K. It throws everyone off and makes paperwork things randomly more difficult! And then…I went and did the same thing to my son, giving him a formal name with an A and a regularly used nickname with a G. Silly me!!

  3. Well, first of all, the new design looks terrific, nice big pictures, same wonderful Vivian commentary. Works for me. (What didn’t work was when I tried clicking on your “empty” tea pix so I could copy and practice it won’t let you save the photo or even copy/paste. Which actually could be a good thing in some ways in terms of protecting your art from the unscrupulous and not-so-good for faithful readers-future artists.) It’s just me — but wouldn’t mind a half-tic larger font. Yes, that’s just me. Maybe my new glasses will settle that once and for all! But oh, I love all the space here!

    I know what you mean about twee and you illustrated it perfectly! And your filled with roses cup made my heart sing!

    Names — I’ve been Deet since I named myself that at probably age two when I couldn’t say Jeanie Ellen so I said Deetle-El. Only my family calls me that and I don’t mind (although I do take exception with pesticides claiming to have “me” in their formula.) I’ve never had a universally hated name or moniker like “the twins” although I have to say that when I was Princess Laughing Tinkle, I preferred that it stay within the three or four friends who shared the joke — namely that on long road trips with this group I would laugh so hard I would have to hit every rest area around! Fine with them — but in larger groups, a bit difficult to explain without embarrassment. Of course, I was 20 then. Now the inhibitions are far less! I feel for you with The Twins, though. Good for you, standing up for yourself. Relative strikes me as more than a tad insensitive.

    I need to review your bark lesson. I tried painting a scene with many trees and “remembering” what to do. I don’t think I did so well…

    • Vivian

      Jeanie, your Comment can never be too long. I know that people like to click back to read what everyone else is saying so I know that I’m not the only who loves all the stories — the longer the better.

      I will look into that image issue and see if that is just a glitch or a feature of the new lay out. It might be a new security feature, and if it is I’ll have to think of some other way to send out my schematics — thank you for letting me know of the problem. We should paint together some day — in person or thru the magic of the inter webs!

    • I’ve been trying my best to do Vivian leaves.Maybe my BG is too much for me at the moment! I’m going to give them another pass with a darker hue… Get it right someday and at the very least have fun trying!

  4. I too like the new sleek look.
    I should sleek up too;)
    Love seeing your teacups and learning about twee.
    I am sure I twee too much.
    Not that it’s my nickname..but it could be my middle name beside What If.
    Never knew vous étiez une jumelle:)
    I said it in French to not bug you:)
    My worst nickname was from my dad..he either called me Porky or can tell which one bothered me..he stopped when I was 11 I think..because I was..and it made me sad.
    Two people have called me Mon..which I am fine with.
    And one person called me MOHney.Didn’t like that.
    So I would whole name has been the name .

    We have twins in our community like most communities do..these girls are so close and so identical and their 30’s now..and one gave the other a they are publicized..they live together and are inseperable..quite lovely to witness.Beauties..strikingly so.
    Enjoy your travels..will pop by the Podcast:)

  5. Bunny

    The new look seems so, how shall I say Texas big. Seems like you have much more room to ramble. Love the post today, as usual. Best of luck in your travels, I’m sure you’ll knock em dead with your wit and charm. Wish I could be there.

  6. Patricia

    I changed my name from Patty to Pat in fourth grade and from Pat to Patricia when I divorced my first husband. I was changing everything else so why not have the name I really wanted. So I did. I had to keep reminding people (even correcting the then mayor of Seattle once) but eventually everybody shifted.

    I think Andie from Portland should ask everyone to start calling the other Andy, “Andy Boy” . That would get the point across.

    I’ll be there at the bookstore next week. With all my Vivian Swifts for autographs.

  7. Janet

    My ex-husband nicknamed me Jan, though my name is Janet. I hated it but somehow it stuck. Even my parents started calling me Jan. My professional colleagues referred to me as Jan. Even after I was divorced, the name persisted — I still had the despised nickname AND the former’s husband’s last name too. One day about ten years later it finally dawned on me that it was stupid to have a name I didn’t like, especially one that belonged to someone who had nothing to do with my life any more. That very day, I marched myself down to the courthouse, filled out the paperwork, and for $126 and a brief appearance before a judge, I legally picked the name I wanted. I officially became Janet again, changed my middle name Marie — which I never liked either — to the initial M, and adopted my grandmother’s maiden name as my last name. You should be called what you like, right? The only person allowed to call me what she wanted, however, was my dear, dear grandmother. Until the day she died at 99, I was always Janet Marie.

    I like the new blog facelift — nice look.

  8. Beck

    Well, I was given the nickname Beck by my nephew because Kathryne (yes with an e and that does cause all grades of problems) Rebecca. I was fine with Beck however, a little girl, who was quite irritating, insisted on calling me Becky. I hated it! When I got to college and was a Freshman rat I was willing to take the consequences meted out by the upper class-man for refusing to answer to Becky. It was worth standing my ground!
    Your blog post is the highlight of Fri. morns.

  9. Everyone should SURELY be called what she (or he) would like to be called.

    One of the things that is hard, in life, is distinguishing between things that are about us, and things that are not about us. Your relative who wants to call you “the twins” is clearly someone who has not thought about (or come to terms with) this problem.

    However much she may like calling you “the twins,” what you are called (by anyone, including her) is NOT ABOUT HER. It is about YOU.

    The fact that she likes calling you “the twins” is irrelevant. Period.

    (We can’t always get what we want, etc, etc, and, alas, often shouldn’t. When it’s not about us, it’s not about us, and that’s that. Time to cowgirl up, get over everything failing to be about us at all times, and move on.)

    As someone with a diminutive nickname (and a ferocious intent that I should not be diminished), I think about this issue (and made sure my child did not have a readily-diminished name).

    In Andie’s situation, she needs to determine what she would like to be called, taking into account the Andie/Andy problem. (I bet she has already done this.)

    Then she should tell everyone (including HR) what she prefers to be called, and then expect them to stick to it.

    I suspect doing it in a light (but firm) way will work better than belligerence. (Hard for those, like me, to whom belligerence comes more easily than diplomacy, but there it is. When the solution is more important than the difficulty of the means, we may have to make sacrifices.)

    Women in my office decided to be Elizabeth the younger and Elizabeth the elder. And I think someone whose given name was Beth became Elizabeth the pretender…. 🙂

    My friend Laurie grew up in a group of friends including a Lori and a Lorie. Laurie was called La-oo-rye-eee. Lori was Low-ree. Lorie was Low-rye-ee.

    Many ways to solve the problem. 🙂 And then the solution — chosen by those it is actually ABOUT — is explained to others. Kindly but firmly.

  10. Love the way you paint and tell, the story not being about the painting. It feels like being in your thoughts while painting.
    Also love the blue flower on the cup. It resembles a Braque bird.
    Yes, everybody has the right to being called what he likes. In France it is not easy to change a name for real, first or last name. Much easier on the internet. I’ve been Ariane for a decade.

  11. Megan

    Well what a swish new format you have. I do dearly hope the comments stick this time. I have to say you are awful Vivian! I am so glad I had finished my morning coffee or disaster would have ensued. OMG, “Now, as a grown up, I have a more mature understanding of the gift-giving situation and I understand that my relatives were simply being cheap bastards so, for the most part, I have disowned them.” Oh I love your turn of a phrase. So sorry to think this is so hysterical as I think it pretty rotten that you were not treated as individuals and to have to share a present and a cake, just mean. I worked with a Charlie and one day he said he wanted to be called Charles, it didn’t stick with me very easily, until a co worker said that he should be called what he wanted to be called. I have not called him anything other than Charles since then, even when his girl friend (partner of ten years) reintroduced him as Charlie. I didn’t see how important it was until it was bluntly pointed out to me and it is important. You may be a twin but that is not your identity or what makes you, you. Hey BTW where are the cats?

  12. SusanA

    Vivian, I love the new look of your blog, and I enjoyed this post. I felt like I was right there with you, watching you calmly paint a beautiful teacup, while at the same time listening to you conversationally rant about being called The Twins.

    To answer your second question: Right! We should be called what we like. I was christened Susan. When I was little, everyone called me Susie. Sometime in my teens, I started signing my name and introducing myself as Susan. But everyone else decided to start calling me Sue. I never felt like a Sue and have spent the last 30-plus years correcting people who take it upon themselves to shorten my name.

    My mom is one of the worst. She named me Susan, yet she refuses to call me anything but Sue. She’s 92 and set in her ways, so I try to cut her some slack, but why didn’t she just name me Sue at birth and be done with it? And after I asked a family friend to call me Susan instead of Sue, he actually did start calling me Susan—only now, every time he sees me, he makes a point of saying something like, Hello, SUSAN, as if my name came in all caps and bold text. And he always smirks when he says it. What’s with that?

    I agree with Vicki in Michigan; I think people who refuse to call others what they want to be called are all about themselves and what they like, regardless. It can be maddening.

  13. Thea

    Yes, WELL. Given name Theodora, called Tedy through college, when I went into the professional world Thea. I am Tedy or Thea depending when people first knew me. I am also Dia, Tia, Betty and Theo. Oh, and often Terry. I go by all of them because I know who I am. That said (for me), people should be called the name they chose to be called. Your relative is odious. Apart from all else, “the twins”? Should I be looking for a “B” cup or a “C” cup? Although the phrase does sound more lovely in French.
    Love the new format, love the trilogy. And the quartet. And, oh, perhaps the type could be a tad embiggened.
    About twee, I do not hesitate to state I know what’s what, and the initial mash-up is twee. Give it to some shallow person, who certainly will not be one of your readers.
    For years, I have been struggling to explain the concept of twee. You did it well. Spot on.

  14. Love your new, simple blog look – very chic.
    LOVE this post – agree that the painting and writing about something else makes me feel as though we are having a private chat !

    OY – the name thing. Sorry about your Aunt’s behavior – how yucky. My ex (emphasis on EX) had nickname for everyone , including me and the kids and none of us liked it, most likely because he never called us by our real names. I honestly don’t remember him EVER calling me by my name. I’m pretty sure people do it as some weird , pathetic power trip , to marginalize and diminish others in an attempt to make themselves feel superior. Grrr – still makes me angry. Once or twice can be overlooked – decades cannot! Bye, bye Auntie and Mr. Ex !

    My name is Deborah, so as a kid I was , of course, Debbie – fine for a 5 year old, not so much for an adult. I’ve rebranded myself to Deb and am always annoyed by people who, after I introduce myself as “Deb”, begin the conversation by saying, “so Debbie”. Part not listening, part not caring, part moron ! I need to learn to do what my daughter, Katherine, does when someone dares to call her Kathy – she pretends she didn’t hear them and just ignores them.

  15. Yes, every person should be called what they want to be called. But, alas, there are those situations when it just isn’t going to happen. Back, back, back in time – 1965 to be exact -I was 13 years old (definitely dawdling in the tadpole-ugly stage of my young life … stuck somewhere in metamorphosis). I was 13, almost 6 ft. tall, and as clumsy as a newborn colt on roller skates. Well, I had one of “those” male teachers … you know … an unkempt, creepy guy in his forties, who picked his nose, scratched his unmentionables, and whose shirt was too-often the one he’d worn the day before. He would walk very slowly down between our rows of chairs, and then suddenly stop and breathe down our necks for a few moments, before moving on. UGH!

    Well, this horrid man gave certain ones of us nicknames – to both boys and girls alike. My nickname was Big D. Well, I WAS taller than he was, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know junior high girls (or any aged female actually) loath to be considered as “Big”-ANYthing. One of my friends, who also was tall, and who had beautiful red hair he labelled as “Big Red.” Oh, how we shuddered when his eyes would fall upon us, and he would call us by our horrid “Big” names. (Like we didn’t already feel awkward, self-conscious, and like Alice the Goon on steroids, for cryin’ out loud!)

    I remind you, the year was 1965. When a teacher acted like a jerk, one simply endured the mortification and prayed for the year to go quickly. In fact, he was the kind of guy who would have made our existence a hundred-fold more miserable if we should be so ridiculous as to ask him to cease and desist his name calling. Harassment is not a word used by students of any age back then … well, not in our little rural school anyway. SO … that’s my “I hated that name!” story.

    I really love your tea cups … always have, since reading “When Wanderers ….” As for pretty tea things placed in a garden full of posies being “Twee.” Well, tea things in a garden are ALWAYS lovely. And is there possibly a way of NOT being “twee” when putting the two realities together? Hmmm, I don’t know. A new philosophical query to ponder.

    Well, dear Vivian … Happy Trails as you fly across our beautiful land. Happy Trails to you, until we meet again …

  16. Kirra

    Really!!?! I am an identical twin too!!!! Awesome!

    Now, the only time my sister and I got called ‘the twins’ was at school and mainly by friends who used to tell their parents we counted as one person, so they could invite more people to sleepovers/partys/etc. we didn’t mind then. However I don’t think I’ve ever been called that as an adult!

    Our parents were really good, we have nice long names you can shorten if needed (this is Australia after all!) Kirrabelle – Kirra, Rosanna – Rosie. We always got separate birthday and Christmas presents – your rellies suck!!! We also weren’t dressed the same or anything twee like that, which was good.

    When we were young we used our shorter names a lot but now we use our longer full names more. It’s family and close friends that use our shorter names which is nice.

    Now, my sister has lived in Germany for the last nine years and I usually say “my sister….” all the time. When people see a photo of us or meet her sometimes they freak out a bit as I forgot to mention we’re twins, it’s pretty funny! Now I try to remember to tell new friends/colleagues once that she’s my twin sister. I guess I grew up with everyone knowing I was a twin so never really think to mention it much. I told two five year old twin girls I teach that I was a twin but they didn’t believe me – ha ha.

    People need to be called what they like. Sometimes it will take a little bit of effort and memory from others but it’s not hard!

    I love this tea cup post, I love tea cups/pots/tea. I think the picture would be less twee if there wasn’t a flower pattern on the tea cups etc? I like the new tea cup design too. Keep it up! My 5 star Amazon review should be there, fingers crossed.

    Looking very swish in this new format 🙂

  17. Ann

    Growing up on a farm in the south in the fifties my farm friends (children of the workers), had to call me Miss Ann. Later, as an adult at work some of the younger staff started calling me Miss Ann. I hated it then as much as I did as a child. So, in midlife, I acquired a nickname. “Call me Annnie” I said. It stuck. Great grandmother name! Even my brother calls me Annnie.

  18. Patricia

    I’ve been looking forward to finally meeting you next Tuesday in Seattle.

    My husband broke it to me yesterday that we have (and for some time now) theater tickets next Tuesday with a 7:30 curtain. No way to do both. Double damn. We can’t change the tickets because we’re trying to cram in all our plays before we leave for Vienna.

    I’ll check with World Wide Books and see if I can leave my books for you to autograph. But alas, I’ll completely miss my opportunity to meet the one and only Vivian Swift and hear you talk about travel, and painting and cats … and gardening of course. Because you’re an expert on gardens. Well, at least at really looking at them and seeing them through a painter’s eyes.

  19. You always make me smile dear Vivian, and I love how you work things out while you paint. And, I am amazed how long most of the comments are left by your readers. They rival your posts! xoxo

  20. Yes! I can leave a comment!! Congratulations to Snap for winning the lovely little boat watercolor.
    I love to paint dishes, bowls & cups. Nickname? Never. I’m Carol and never heard a nickname for that.

  21. Patricia

    Just one more thing: have you thought about designing a coloring book for fans of your books? A lot more drawing, no painting and no writing…. And everyone who wants to paint like Vivian without the pesky perspective issues could just color away.

  22. Maryanne in SC

    No nickname story, but my Mom did try to dress my younger sister and me as twins for a long time. Sixty years on, I still growl when I see saddle shoes. Red and white saddle shoes.

    Re: Twee or not Twee? You will be twee when dry Martinis are twee, which is never.

    Safe and fabulous travels, dear Vivian.

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